June 5, 2021
Layshia Clarendon helps the Minnesota Lynx snap losing streak
‘I’m still trying to catch my breath—like, what just happened?’
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“My mind is still spinning, it’s all happened so fast,” Layshia Clarendon said in her postgame interview after helping the Minnesota Lynx get their first win of the season in overtime against the Connecticut Sun. “Shootaround, the game, the game winner—Crystal [Dangerfield], I think, rolled her ankle, ‘cause they told me to go in for overtime, and that’s what this league is.”
It’s been a whirlwind for the All-Star point guard and WNBPA First Vice President as they were waived by the New York Liberty, signed with Minnesota and played their first game in a Lynx uniform, all in about a week.
“You always have to stay ready. I’m still trying to catch my breath—like, what just happened? I got cut a week ago, I flew home, I got [back] on a plane, I’m playing with the Minnesota Lynx. That’s the WNBA; you just have to stay ready and prepared,” said Clarendon.
Clarendon is doing what they were brought to Minnesota to do, and the impact is immediate. In his first two games with the Lynx, he is seamlessly fitting in, filling the roles the Lynx needed most: a veteran ball-handler to help create shot opportunities and mentor Dangerfield, the 2020 Rookie of the Year.
Coming off the bench in their first game in a Lynx uniform, Clarendon put up an impressive 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal. And who could forget the near-game-winner at the end of regulation that was called back but certainly gave the Lynx a morale boost and momentum going into overtime. But the stat sheet isn’t the only place they’ve made an impact on the Lynx. Clarendon’s experience and leadership has been apparent since they stepped on the court with their new team.
“She played at a certain pace that really kept us going. You could feel the impact immediately,” Kayla McBride said after the win against Connecticut. “I thought Lay did a great job in just being confident in what we had and just competing. I think that’s what we really needed; we needed that competition and toughness, and I think that she really brought that for us tonight on both ends.”
In his second game, Clarendon was added to the Lynx starting lineup and had another impressive game, finishing with 14 points, two rebounds and five assists in the Lynx’s 86-84 win over the Atlanta Dream. Even though the Lynx had a season-high 20 turnovers and came close to a second overtime game in less than a week, the Lynx played more like a unit.
“Our chemistry is working a lot better on offense and defense. We’re getting into the schemes that we want to, we know where people want the ball [and] to get it to them in the right place, things like that,” Napheesa Collier, who had a team- and season-high 26 points, told reporters postgame. “It’s finally coming together.”
“I think we’re just figuring out how to win tough games,” Clarendon said. “In this league, you have to find that grittiness and that toughness. I think we’re making it a little bit harder on ourselves, like with the turnovers, than what we need to. But you just have to find a way to win in this league, no matter what it looks like.”
Naturally, in both games there were some miscues as Clarendon is integrated more into the Lynx’s game and learns the playbook. That’s to be expected when a player doesn’t have a chance to practice with the team before a game. “[Head coach] Cheryl [Reeve] was calling plays, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is,’ so she’s talking me through it a couple times, but I’m just trying to be myself,” Clarendon said after the win against Connecticut.
Reeve doesn’t appear to be concerned with Clarendon getting up to speed. As she told reporters, “She’s a vet that’s paid attention through the years. She’s played against the Lynx for a long time, and so when I sent her the playbook and things to concentrate on it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that.’ She spent her time in the onboarding process really well.”
It also helps that Clarendon previously played for Walt Hopkins, who was an assistant coach in Minnesota under Reeve for three years prior to becoming the New York Liberty’s head coach. “I can see a lot of the things that Walt [Hopkins] took or sampled from Cheryl Reeve and so there was a little bit of carryover,” said Clarendon.
Clarendon is joining a team with familiar faces, having had many opportunities to play with several players from the Lynx roster through USA Basketball and previously in the WNBA.
“I love Napheesa Collier; I played three on-three USA Basketball with her. I love Sylvia Fowles, obviously,” Clarendon said. They have also played with Natalie Achonwa in Indiana, Damiris Dantas in Atlanta, and Rachel Banham and Bridget Carleton in Connecticut. “It really felt like coming to a team of friends and people I know and not [like] I [had] to figure out how to get acclimated. [It’s] like I get to play with my friends again,” Clarendon said.
These past experiences certainly have helped Clarendon acclimate so quickly to their new team. “Although I haven’t been a part of this system, I know a lot of these players and so there has been a level of trust of [when] I’m saying things, they’re listening,” they said.
Having Clarendon’s veteran presence is taking some of the pressure off Dangerfield and giving her an opportunity to learn from an experienced point guard. And Clarendon is eager to help Dangerfield grow.
“Seeing Crystal, I see a lot of myself in her. Just like a young point guard who’s learning so much so quickly,” Clarendon said. “She has that never fazed mentality. You can see that ‘UConn-ness’ of her that she doesn’t get rattled, really, when she makes mistakes, and that’s a really good trait to have in a point guard.”
While Dangerfield did struggle to produce for most of the game against Atlanta, she was able to find her groove in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 10 points and winning a jump ball. Having Clarendon’s guidance and experience will only help Dangerfield’s game.
Clarendon is the final piece to the puzzle that the Lynx needed to start winning games and get back on track to fight for a championship.
“I bring a lot of intangibles to the court that don’t always show up in the stat sheet. Being that poised veteran leader out there on the court getting us into our offense, just being that calming presence and that glue,” she said.
After being waived by New York, not knowing if they’d be picked up by another team, getting the call to play in Minnesota, being thrust into a prominent role and immediately making such a positive impact with the Lynx, Clarendon is happy that they have a chance to continue playing this year.
“I just have so much joy and appreciation for getting to play the game of basketball,” Clarendon said. “I love to play. It just brings me joy. I love practice. I love shootaround. I just love to be out there and the freedom and the fun in playing basketball.”